COL Iraq invasion foolhardy

Bombing, ground invasion would sabotage U.S. interests

Although an ordinary citizen might be arrested for publicizing major military operations in advance, the U.S. Defense Department continues to let it be known that it is planning to bomb Iraq and invade that country with ground troops -- it just hasn't chosen an appropriate time.

In an apparent effort to prepare world opinion for such an operation, top officials have indicated they are preparing an attack and have given up hope that Iraqi dissidents are sufficiently strong to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Plans call for a major aerial bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion involving 75,000 to 250,000 U.S. troops.

The Bush administration is apparently not concerned that world opinion is uniformly opposed to such an attack. In addition, moderate Arab nations that have cooperated with the United States in the past believe the attack would result in violent upheavals in the Middle East. Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has said that, if the attack is launched, the United States would no longer be allowed to use military bases in that country.

Even announcing a war plan against Iraq will make it much more difficult to achieve what should be a key U.S. objective -- a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Leading Arab countries have offered to help arrange such a settlement, but that offer was made before plans for an attack on Iraq were announced.


; President Bush has given top priority to ending the threat of terrorist attacks against this country. He has not yet grasped the fact that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would do more to stop terrorism than any other single move. It is that conflict, and the perceived bias of the United States in favor of Israel, that has inspired an in-depth hatred of this country among Arabs and Muslims worldwide.

There are other reasons why an invasion of Iraq in the near future is not in the best interest of the United States. One is the fact that we have by no means finished our task in Afghanistan. The so-called central government has authority only in the capital of Kabul. Various warlords and other factions rule other corners of the country, and they are fighting it out in defiance of Kabul authorities and U.S. forces. We should not undertake an even larger conflict before that one is settled.

A second reason is that the Defense Department plan apparently includes a very heavy bombing campaign to prepare the way for ground forces. That might be an effective military tactic, but it would result in the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians who are, after all, unwilling captives of Saddam Hussein.

A third reason is that there is no evidence Saddam is any better prepared to launch an attack with weapons of mass destruction than he has been in the past. He is under surveillance from U.S. satellites, and we have information available from dissidents within Iraq. If there was evidence of such preparations, we would find them. In the meantime, Saddam knows that any such effort would result in immediate destruction of his country and palaces.

Finally, Bush's program to annihilate the "axis of evil" is a contrived policy designed to justify building a "star wars" anti-missile defense of the kind President Reagan tried and failed to do. The axis links Iraq, Iran and North Korea for no apparent reason. Most Iranians are favorably inclined toward western countries, have twice elected Muhammad Khatami, a moderate and enlightened president and could become a friendly country under Khatami's leadership. By treating Iran like Iraq and North Korea, Bush discards that possibility.

In the same way, North Korea and South Korea have shown a real interest in a more positive relationship that could, in time, end their half-century of conflict. Bush's "axis" pronouncement has virtually blocked any progress in that direction.

The first priority for the United States and its allies should be to influence a peaceful settlement for the Palestinians and Israelis. The second should be to use persistence in rooting out the Al-Qaida terrorist network. The third should be to establish a stable government in Afghanistan.

After all that is accomplished, there will be time to reconsider a practical way of dealing with Saddam Hussein. Rushing an invasion now would be the height of folly and ruin chances for success in the areas where the United States needs it most.

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